Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
March 2009

Rock of ages

Dwayne Johnson carries 'Witch Mountain' remake as far as he can

Race to Witch Mountain
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Andy Fickman
Screenplay: Matt Lopez and Matt Bomback, based on a novel by Alexander Key
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Ciaran Hinds, Carla Gugino, Tom Everett Scott and Garry Marshall
Rated PG / 1 hour, 38 minutes
(out of four)

To see Dwayne Johnson carry Race to Witch Mountain from beginning to end - a strain even on his broad shoulders - inspires both admiration and regret. Here is an actor who should be at the top of the action-movie food chain, reduced to toplining mediocre kid flicks - and not only is he pulling it off, but he seems to be enjoying himself.

It only came to this because his action ventures of his early post-WWE career failed to catch on. The Rundown was great, but no one saw it. Many saw but few remembered The Scorpion King, Doom flopped and, from then on, many of the rumored starring roles and "The Next Schwarzenegger" chatter seemed to die down.

His reinvention as a marketable, family-friendly leading man is a tribute to his natural charisma. At the same time, I feel like we're getting gypped. Maybe Johnson simply came along in the wrong decade. He would have fit right in during the '80s and early '90s, when Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Seagal and Van Damme ruled the day. With more natural acting talent than any of them - by a long shot - he may have even stolen some of their roles.

But nowadays, action movies are more likely to go the "regular guy" routine. The stars don't look like action figures anymore. We're more likely to see a Matt Damon, a James McAvoy, a Nicolas Cage.

Hopefully, Johnson's best days - and best roles - are ahead of him.

Until then, the dapples of joy and inspiration he can bring to us all are limited to the likes of Race to Witch Mountain, which is not an altogether bad picture but is certainly one that has limited its audience to an exclusively young intellect. It's essentially a Sunday night Wide World of Disney special with a big-name cast and more expensive special effects.

Johnson plays Jack Bruno, a down-and-out cab driver in Las Vegas trying to escape his past as a mobster's driver, and who just happens to get stuck with two extraterrestrial children as his next fare. The government has been tracking alien life for decades now, so Jack and the kids aren't on their own. As the three of them race - wait for it . . . wait for it . . . - to Witch Mountain, not far behind is a ruthless government heavy (Ciaran Hinds).

And we haven't even gotten to the alien bounty hunter (who, unfortunately, isn't played by Brian Thompson).

What Johnson does so effectively in Witch Mountain is create a tonal balance between the dumbed-down science and logic the plot depends on, and the necessity of our willing suspension of disbelief.

The story is silly in a Power Rangers sort of way, and not nearly as sophisticated as a lot of recent family fare, but Johnson's conviction is able to pull us through it - even if the screenplay neglects to follow through on the story of his character.

Johnson's performance isn't surprising. He has been the best part of otherwise forgettable (Southland Tales) or downright abysmal (Be Cool) movies in against-type roles, and has already carried his share of bad movies.

Now we can just hope for the best. With the physique and comic timing of Arnold (without the cumbersome accent) and the sly wit and everyman quality of Bruce Willis, he's tailor-made for three or four of his own action franchises, an action-packed buddy comedy every year or two, the occasional head-trip into outer space, a natural disaster or terrorist attack to thwart, and the magical journey of childbirth.

M-I-H, Hollywood - make it happen.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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